First aid

What's in my first aid kit when I travel? 
What do I carry in my first aid kit when traveling?

Oh! You don’t carry a first aid kit? What will you do if you have an emergency or even a minor ailment of some kind when you are in the middle of your next vacation or business trip. I discovered that when traveling and living with local people in some less developed areas of the world, my small first aid kit gets almost daily usage by the people I’m hanging out with.

As you read this list of first aid supplies and my comments about them please remember that I AM NOT any kind of medical expert. At one time I did hold a first aid instructors’ certificate and I have taught dozens of first aid classes. I’ve renewed my red cross first aid and CPR cards countless times. My comments in this article only reflect how I handle my personal travel and are absolutely not intended to replace the professional medical advice that every traveler should seek.

I always carry these items in a large gallon sized zipper baggie.
1. aspirin - - (heart problems – stroke – headaches)
2. Ibupropen (muscle pain, body pain, sprains, headaches)
2A. Paracetamol (Tylenol) (Reduce fever, headaches)
3. anti-fungal cream (athlete’s foot etc. Zylactin)
4. hydro-cortisone cream for allergic rashes or insect bites.
5. Insect sting relief liquid in a small tubular container. (I also carry Benadryl)
6. Imodium AD Strong action stomach disorder pills.
7. Tagamet or similar antacid pills, although for me I only ever need this medicine when eating too many burgers and fries back in the USA. I have never needed it in Asia.
8. Eye drops like Visine to wash dust from my eyes.
9. Neosporin for cuts.
10. 3 or 4 latex gloves because if I must help anyone who is bleeding or drooling I always wear gloves.

In the USA you generally need a doctor to write a prescription for antibiotics. Some medical plans – like Kaiser – have a “travel hot line” to call and they go through a travel list of questions before scheduling you for injections and prescribing what medicine they think you might need. Don’t be afraid to tell your doctor or travel nurse what you want them to prescribe for you! It’s your body and you have a right to say what you think you will need.
I carry several kinds of antibiotics because if you are not in a major city, obtaining medicine such as antibiotics can be difficult to impossible. It is always time consuming, which can destroy a tight vacation schedule. Because I am always traveling it is easy for me to buy most medicine while I’ve traveling and get it cheaper than I would back in the USA. But I really watch the expiration dates when buying from foreign pharmacies. So what antibiotics do I carry?

1. Doxycycline because it is inexpensive, covers a BROAD spectrum of ailments and is the drug I choose to use when in malaria prevalent areas, because it is cheap and proven effective as a malaria prophylactic. There is a common side effect – sensitivity to sun. Some people can become sunburned easily when using this antibiotic. This drug is also very effective for things like tooth or mouth infections and some respiratory problems.

2. I also carry roxithromycin and or arythromycin. These antibiotics are very effective for upper respiratory secondary infections. No antibiotics work on a virus, so colds, swine flu and other similar ailments are not touched by any of these drugs. But frequently secondary infections such as vicious coughing, chest congestion and even pneumonia can develop during or after a cold or the flu. That’s why I carry this medicine. If I do get a cold and it begins to get worse I have something readily available to fight it off.

3. In most major Asian cities where I travel antibiotics are available at the pharmacies without a prescription. It can just be difficult to get what you want or need. Most electronic translators don’t have medical vocabulary skills. Some pill containers in the pharmacies are printed in both the local Asian language and in English, but sometimes the containers are in French or German, not English.

4. The most important antibiotic for many travelers is Ciprofloxin or one of the other antibiotics used to treat serious diarrhea. There are several medications that your travel doctor might choose, but most of us refer to “Cipro”. Some medications require only ONE tablet taken one time. Others require several tablets at one time or perhaps several tablets over the course of two to four days. Read and follow those directions carefully.
If I develop a stomach problem I take the antibiotic as soon as I feel the disorder coming on. This is contrary to most professional advice, which advice usually recommends using an over the counter medication such as Imodium AD before resorting to the stronger antibiotic medicine. The longer people wait to treat diarrhea the more difficult it is to cure and the longer their recovery period. If you are on a week or 10 day trip you would not want to be sick and lying in your room for two or three days because of a simple stomach problem.

Other stuff in my first aid kit:
Small pointed sharp scissors that have many uses.
Nail file
Nail clippers
Digital $3 thermometer (important to help identify fever or infections)
Tweezers 1 pointy pair and 1 flat pair
Suture packet. Yes a needle and thread for sewing up a wound. It takes almost no space, weighs virtually nothing and it is there if I ever need it. One or two stitches can make a real difference in stopping the bleeding in a deep nasty wound if there is no trained medical aid nearby.
Small bottle of hand sanitizer.
A packet or contain of blood clotting powder or salve. (it is expensive) This when applied to a wound helps stop the blood flow quicker. In remote situations this can be a life saver.
Various Band aids in several sizes. I prefer the extra sticky waterproof types. I always carry a couple “butterfly” closures. These are very good for small deep wounds in your foot or hand. I carry several gauze pads in various sizes. There are also
First aid tape. Again I prefer the waterproof type. I don’t like the easy removal type because it isn’t so effective when you really need it to stay on.
A few antibacterial alcohol swabs for cleaning a cut.
A very large square bandage for something like a scraped knee or elbow.
One Ace elastic bandage for things like twisted ankles.
I always wear a belt when I go out into wilderness situations and this can be used as a tourniquet if that were ever needed.

There are small inexpensive first aid kits in most hardware stores. Costco carries a fairly comprehensive kit that, while not complete by my standards, is nearly good enough. And has room inside to stuff the other things you might need.

I keep these first aid supplies stored in four separate smaller baggies within the one large gallon bag. Bandaids and similar are stored in one bag. All the creams and over the counter medicine in a second bag. The antibiotics in a third. The scissors, thermometer, tweezers, file, nail clippers and suture in a fourth bag. It’s easy to then find what I need quickly. The latex gloves are loose in the large bag so that they are immediately available for use. My practice is to take the baggie I need and just dump the entire contents onto a table or bed or flat rock. Then it is quick and simple to find the particular thing I need. In an emergency you should not fumble around wasting time looking for the aid you need.

The best first aid is to not get sick or injured. I have taken almost every kind of injection offered. Anthrax, typhoid, tetanus, polio, annual flu shots, pneumonia and hepatitis - both Hepatitis A and C. If they come out with injections for Hepatitis B, D, E or X I will take those injections too.

Washing hands is important before placing them near your face or eyes, especially when traveling. I am not a fan of constantly rubbing hands with antibacterial lotion, but many people who come along on our tours use these hand wipes or small bottles of anti-bacterial lotion incessantly all day long.
You might have noticed there is nothing in my first aid list for a toothache. I advise every person planning a trip, to go to their dentist and get their teeth checked and fixed before the trip. Because teeth cleaning and dental work is VERY inexpensive in Thailand and the Philippines I have my teeth cleaned frequently while abroad. I have no cavities or other dental problems - they are all repaired and kept that way. I keep my dental care current. On the other hand if you need a root canal, the cost in Thailand or the Philippines is only about $75 to $125 U.S. dollars complete. Antibiotics might run another $5 - $10 at the pharmacy. You can have a tooth pulled for $5 to $10 US. Dental care in Thailand is usually modern and very first class.
Again prevention is the best First Aid. If you have never taken a CPR or Red Cross First Aid course I highly recommend doing so. If you’re away on a family trip and someone stops breathing, will you know what to do? What about something as common as one of your friends or relatives choking on a piece of food? Are you prepared to handle that minor emergency that can end up causing a death of someone close to you.
In 2002 I was eating dinner with my friend Bob, in a nice restaurant in Baja, Mexico. He was eating steak. A piece stuck in his throat. He couldn’t get it out and could not breathe. Bob was a calm person who seldom showed panic. He stood, pointed at his throat and walked out the front door. I followed him. The waiter followed both of us, perhaps thinking we were skipping out on the bill.

Bob came over and stood with his back to me. He knew I would take it from there. I wrapped my arms around his waist, placing my closed fist just beneath his sternum and then pulled back. Nothing happened! Bob turned around to look at me in a quizzical way when the meat did not come out of his throat. By then his face was turning bright red.

For the second go at clearing his throat I again wrapped my arms around him. Then I pulled back so hard and so abruptly that Bob’s feet flew off the ground, up over his head. The piece of meat popped from his mouth, flying about 15 feet across the parking lot. Bob looked at me, said “Thanks pal” and we went back inside to finish our meal.

The end of that meal could have been very different if I did not have the extensive First Aid training that I have had. I urge all my readers to go some Saturday and do the CPR and first aid course at your local Red Cross. When you are in the class be sure and have the instructor show the proper way to perform the Heimlich Maneuver or whatever name they are using for that now. CPR and clearing food lodged in someone’s throat are two forms of first aid that EVERY person should be able to do, because you never know when a person close to you will need your help.
Have a safe and fun journey.
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